Day of Disaster

Gwyn woke up that morning with a feeling of foreboding. It wasn't that the weather was bad, or that she was ill, it was just a feeling that something was going to go very wrong.

Gwyn stretched in her bed and got up, her mind registering again that she was in the side room next to the Hatching Grounds where Cailleath insisted she be. It wasn't easy, as the room was much smaller than her own weyr, but Cailleath was adamant and Gwyn complied with the broody queen.

Broody was hardly the word for it. Cailleath had reigned terror over anyone coming into the Hatching Grounds. Gwyn had convinced the dragon that people had to see her eggs, but no one save for Gwyn and Lynnia were allowed closer than the entrance. And despite all coaxing and orders, Cailleath would allow no Candidates near her eggs. It had been nearly five weeks of this behaviour and the Hatching Date was close. Gwyn fervently wished for it to arrive so that things could go back to a semblance of normality.

Are you awake? Cailleath's voice sounded in her mind. The love and towering feeling that Cailleath had for Gwyn shaded the mental tone in colour and Gwyn smiled to herself. No one would ever know this side of Cailleath, she thought to herself as she pulled on her clothing. This was Gwyn's side alone.

"I'm just coming out, sweet," Gwyn called and suiting action to words, walked the short tunnel to the huge Hatching Grounds.

Cailleath swung her head up at Gwyn's approach and her eyes whirled a fast blue/green.

"How are your eggs this morning?" Gwyn inquired, peering down at the cluster of 27 eggs that lay in neat formation on the sands. "They look very nice in that position." Cailleath changed the position of the eggs almost hourly.

They are hard enough to hatch, Cailleath replied, her tone proud. Today.

"Oh, no, Cailleath love, isn't it too early?" Gwyn protested. "I've lost count of the days, but it doesn't seem long enough."

"It is," Lynnia's voice came from behind her. "It's five sevendays exactly today."

Cailleath's eyes narrowed at the sight of Lynnia, but she didn't say anything. Lynnia was a necessary visitor, but woe betide anyone else who came!

"And we have to talk," Lynnia continued firmly. "Cailleath, pretty one, your babies have to Impress our Candidates."

Cailleath hissed at her.

"Stop that!" Gwyn snapped and Cailleath's eyes grew faintly hurt. "You know she's right. You have to behave today when your eggs Hatch."

Why? Cailleath demanded petulantly. They are my eggs.

"But soon they will be dragons and each dragon must have a rider, you know that," Gwyn told the golden dragon. "How would you have liked it if your dam had prevented you from Impressing me?"

She couldn't have stopped me! Cailleath roared. I wanted you and I got you.

"But you think you can stop the Candidates from Impressing your babies?" Gwyn asked reasonably.

Yes.

"Cailleath," Lynnia broke in, having only heard Gwyn's side of the conversation. "Unless you agree to behave today, I will be forced to have Adreath control you."

Cailleath hissed again, much more forcefully, then turned away from the weyrwomen and crouched over her eggs.

"Well?" Lynnia and Gwyn both asked.

Cailleath wouldn't answer and Lynnia was forced to tell the gold dragon that Adreath would be in control during the Hatching.

No! Cailleath suddenly lifted her head. I'll behave.

Lynnia smiled when Gwyn relayed the gold's words.

"Then Adreath will stay in her weyr," she nodded happily. "Gwyn, here comes a weyrling with your breakfast. I'll go tell the Weyrlingmaster and see you later."

Gwyn nodded and tucked into her breakfast when it arrived moments later. She was happy that Cailleath had agreed, but she still felt that sense of unease at the coming events of the day.

It was noon when the eggs began to vibrate. The bronzes and other colours appeared and settled on the upper ledges crooning their throats hoarse in welcome to the dragonets struggling to emerge. The Candidates were brought to the entrance as usual and when Gwyn beckoned them forward and Cailleath did nothing, they hesitantly moved to half circle the rocking eggs. Guests also started in, emboldened by the Candidates' success, although everyone chose seats as far away from the hissing, swaying Cailleath as they could. It wasn't long before the first egg cracked and a bronze dragonet emerged.

The baby dragon was just starting forwards towards the Candidates when Cailleath lunged.

Her forelegs slammed down in a narrow space between the eggs, beside the little bronze and no more than ten feet in front of the Candidates. With a reverberating roar, she lashed her tail behind the eggs and bared her teeth. The little bronze squawked and ran to the side where it bumped into the legs of a Candidate who had fallen when Cailleath roared. Impression occurred, but no one noticed in the midst of Cailleath's display.

"Cailleath, stop it!" Gwyn ran forward waving her hands, but just as she was coming to leap between the Candidates and her weyrmate, Cailleath raised her head and swept her wings forward over the eggs. Most of the Candidates ran screaming, some fell to the ground in terror, but Gwyn, running beside and close, was tumbled off her feet by a wingtip.

A scream of pain and shock emitted from Gwyn's mouth as she tumbled to the ground, her side and arm bleeding heavily from the hard, sharp edge of Cailleath's wing.

NO! Cailleath's agonized wail was almost audible to the horrified spectators as Sarine, the Weyr Healer, dashed to Gwyn's side. Accidents sometimes happened at Hatchings, especially with Candidates who hadn't been handling the eggs and she was ready for that, but Gwyn's injuries were serious. Sarine shook her head in dismay and immediately put a compress on the side wound, trying to stop the bleeding.

"Shards!" Lynnia breathed as she arrived on the scene. "How bad is it, Sarine?"

"Bad enough," Sarine's worried eyes looked up from her quickly working hands. "I need to get her off the sands. The heat is good, but the sand itself will aggravate the wounds."

I will carry her! Cailleath's strong voice sounded in Lynnia's mind for the first time and before anyone could stop her, the queen had carefully scooped Gwyn's limp, unconcious body up and was making her way as fast as she could out of the Hatching Grounds, the Candidates scattering out of her way.

"Where is she going?" Sarine demanded as she, Lynnia, Healer Berit and Apprentice Healer Ayala raced after the golden dragon. Behind them, unnoticed, the Hatching continued.

"Her weyr!" Ayala gasped, pointing. Sure enough, Cailleath's tail was just disappearing into their weyr.

Inside, Cailleath laid Gwyn onto her own couch since the huge queen could not reach inside the sleeping quarters. Distraught but clear headed, Cailleath was now at a loss. The sound of racing footsteps outside brought her head sharply around to see the Healers and Lynnia hurrying in.

"Thank you Cailleath," Lynnia gasped as Sarine dropped to her knees beside the stone couch. Fortunately, Cailleath had always had a soft coverlet on it and Sarine was grateful for the warmth beneath the stricken weyrwoman.

"I brought your equipment, Sarine," M'ark's voice said as he entered the weyr at a run, carrying Sarine's bags. "Here."

Sarine thanked him quickly and began the laborous task of cleaning and sewing the wound on Gwyn's side. It was worse than her arm, and was seeping blood at an alarming rate. Cailleath, whose head hovered over the whole affair, had to be sharply told to move back every once in a while. The queen, shaken, obeyed with alacrity for the first time in her life.

Two hours later, Sarine rose wearily to her knees. Gwyn had not regained conciousness during the procedure, but she was still alive and her breathing was stronger. Her side, stitched and wrapped looked almost normal and her arm, also stitched and wrapped lay at her side. Gwyn's eyelids twitched several times and Sarine, recognizing the signs of someone coming to, hastily readied a fellis laced drought for pain.

"Oooooo," Gwyn moaned and her head moved to the side. Cailleath, allowed closer now that Sarine was done, laid her great head as close to Gwyn's as possible and crooned anxiously.

"Caill...?" Gwyn managed, and then coughed, spraying flecks of saliva and blood on the coverlet. "Wha...?"

"Sshhhh, Gwyn, rest now," Sarine said comfortingly, lifting Gwyn's head enough for the weyrwoman to swallow the drink. "You've been injured and you need to rest now to get your strength up. You lost a lot of blood."

Lynnia herded M'ark and Ayala out of the weyr, Sarine and Berit following shortly after. Left alone, Gwyn focussed her eyes on the large dark gold head beside her. Easier to see was one yellow tinged whirling eye.

I'm sorry, Cailleath said in a small mental voice, her crooning never ceasing.

I'm ok, sweetest of loves, I am, Gwyn mentally assured the queen, her voice not working yet. I'm sorry I got in your way but I was so afraid you'd hurt one of those children.

I would never hurt anyone! Cailleath replied strongly, her crooning intensifying. I just wanted to test them. See if they were worthy.

A Candidate found on Search is always worthy, Gwyn tried to smile but her head ached. You didn't need to.

It won't happen again, Cailleath promised contritely. I didn't mean to hurt you!

I know, Gwyn replied softly. I'd better sleep now, Cailleath.

I'll protect you, Cailleath vowed. I'll always protect you.

Gwyn tried to respond but instead sent Cailleath waves of gratitude and love. A soft sigh later, and she was asleep.

Cailleath raised her head slightly, her crooning unceasing as she looked around her weyr. She would be true to her word, Cailleath thought to herself. No more antics at Hatchings. But only at Hatchings.

Snuggling her head close to Gwyn's, Cailleath slept.